Google’s ads violate antitrust laws, EU says

Google was charged on Wednesday with violating EU antitrust laws by using its dominance in online advertising to undermine rivals, the latest in a series of cases around the world that strike at the heart of the internet giant’s business model.

The case was brought by the European Commission, the executive branch of the 27-nation EU, and is the fourth time Google has been charged with violating European antitrust laws in recent years. In this case, the EU accused Google of abusing its control over the market for buying and selling online advertising.

The US Justice Department brought similar charges against Google in January, accusing the company of illegally abusing a monopoly on the technology that powers online advertising. The UK̵[ads1]7;s antitrust authority has also investigated Google’s advertising practices.

The outcome of the cases could have significant implications for Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which reaped most of its $60 billion in profits last year from advertising. Advertising underpins nearly all of Google’s most popular services, including search, email, maps and Android, and allows the company to offer them for free.

“Google is present at almost every level of the so-called adtech supply chain,” Margrethe Vestager, executive director of the European Commission, said in a statement. “Our preliminary concern is that Google may have used its market position to favor its own mediation services.”

“Not only did this potentially harm Google’s competitors, but also publishers’ interests, while increasing advertisers’ costs,” added Vestager, who oversees digital and competition policy.

The new charges against Google are part of a long-running effort by European authorities to crack down on the world’s biggest technology companies. Apple and Meta, which own Facebook and Instagram, are also subject to antitrust investigations. Last year, the EU adopted new antitrust and digital services laws to tighten supervision of the biggest technology companies. And on Wednesday, the European Parliament, a legislative branch of the European Union, adopted a draft law regulating artificial intelligence.

In recent years, European authorities have fined Google billions of dollars for what they say are antitrust violations related to its Android mobile operating system, its shopping service and another part of its advertising business. All the cases remain bound for court following legal appeals by Google.

With the new charges, the European Commission released what is known as a “statement of objections” against Google, detailing why it believes the company has violated antitrust laws. It is one step in what could be a long process before final decisions are made on whether to impose a fine of up to 10 percent of Google’s global revenue or to order other changes to its business practices. A settlement could also be reached.

Google said it disagreed with the regulators’ findings and would “respond accordingly.”

“Our advertising technology tools help websites and apps monetize their content, enabling businesses of all sizes to effectively reach new customers,” said Dan Taylor, Google’s vice president of global ads. “Google remains committed to creating value for our publishers and advertising partners in this highly competitive sector. The commission’s investigation focuses on a narrow aspect of our advertising business and is not new.”

European regulators began investigating Google two years ago, focusing on the display advertising market, which includes banners and other visual formats on websites. Google offers a number of services to advertisers and publishers in this sector. It collects data to target advertising, sells ad space on websites and offers products that act as intermediaries between advertisers and publishers who own websites.

By controlling so much of the online advertising supply chain, Vestager has said, Google makes it harder for rivals to compete. Publishers such as News Corp have long complained that Google’s dominance limits how much money they can generate from advertising on their websites, or for rival services to emerge.

The European Publishers Council, an industry group representing media companies, applauded Wednesday’s action. The group said it had filed a complaint over a year ago that described how Google “used its position to the detriment of publishers.”

“We look forward to working with the commission as the matter proceeds,” said the council’s chief executive, Angela Mills Wade.

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